We’re all potatoes at heart

Picture this….  you are in the grocery store with your toddler, your toddler is happily sorting packages of crackers on the shelf while you load your basket with items beside her, then when you look down to check on her, there is a lady crouched down beside her, two feet from you, taking her photo. What if that lady then explained that she was taking the photo because your toddler was “so beautiful!”? What if she explained she was taking the photo because your toddler was “so white!”? What if she explained she was taking the photo because your toddler was “so dark!” Are any of these okay?

My daughter is the only completely (both parents) Caucasian baby/toddler in the town where we live. I didn’t even realize or think about this until a few days ago, because it doesn’t matter. At least, it doesn’t matter to me, and shouldn’t matter to anyone else. But it seems to.

Since Lids was just weeks old, we have had people stop and ask (or not ask) to take photos of her, with her, of their children with her, all because she is so beautiful, because she looks like a little doll, because she is……. sooooo white!! :/ Just this past week she has had her photo taken twice; once at the grocery store by one of the cashiers, and once at a park by another mum who took photos of her on her own, then also with her son of a similar age. (None of whom asked before taking photos).

To some people, this might seem crazy and unacceptable. When I stop and really think about it, I have to agree. Imagine this in the USA.. imagine if it was a man taking the photo… imagine if her minority status wasn’t white. Imagine if went down and started taking photos of toddlers playing in the park in the middle of Boston because I thought they were beautiful?! Imagine if I started taking photos of Haitian toddlers in the park here in town because I thought they were beautiful? Wait…people do that. Tourists do that everyday here. Heck, I hate to admit it but I am sure I did it on my trips to South America years ago. People do it all the time without a second thought. They are driving by on a tour bus through the ‘real Dominican Republic’ and spot a couple of half dressed Haitian kids carrying a bucket of water home for their mum to make their dinner, and they snap away. “What a great photo for my scrapbook of the trip!” they declare without a thought as to whether it is okay or whether those kids want their photo taken or if their parents would approve. And it isn’t just Haitian kids.. but tourists tend to think, ‘the poorer, the better’ when it comes to photo opportunities, sadly landing Haitians as prime photo candidates. But Dominicans get it too. Fully dressed kids walking to school in their adorable uniforms… or completely naked toddlers bathing in a bucket in their yard, as many do. For the tourists, I am sure that in 99.9% of cases, they mean no harm at all, but they also aren’t thinking of those kids in the same way they would think of their own. That is what I believe anyway. But the truth is, those kids are no different than their own. Those kids are my neighbours, my students, my daughters’ best friends.

So is it okay for Dominicans/Haitians to take photos of my daughter without my permission? Imagine if my daughter was naked? Would that be okay?? Should it be okay for Americans/Canadians/Brits to take photos of Dominican/Haitian children without their permission? What is that teaching their children? What is that teaching my child? And it isn’t just the photographs. Lids is called the ‘princess’ or the ‘queen’ by many here in town. At her daycare, we had major issues with them carrying her everywhere in the first few months (when she was around a year old). All things I am not okay with, but how can we convince them to treat our children how we want them to be treated if we can’t show the same respect to theirs. And I use the term ‘we’ knowing that the ‘we’s involved are not the same people, but we as a group have a responsibility.

Racism in this country is alive and strong. It doesn’t always have the same appearance as we see in our home countries, but it is here, and possibly even worse. Here it isn’t a case of black and white. It is a case of the lighter your skin, the ‘better’, more beautiful you are. Somehow, we need to show them that this isn’t the case, that we are all equal. Setting the right example is a great start. If you wouldn’t want it done to you (or your children), don’t do it to them (or their children). Equality people. We are, of course, ‘all potatoes at heart’.

Thanks for introducing as to these thought provoking little fellas, SRB! 😉

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12 responses

  1. I love this post title and this is a very thought provoking post. I know very little about racism in other countries. One thing I know for sure is I would feel weird if people were taking pictures of my kid, but you make a great point that it goes both ways. I feel very insulated for thinking that racism was more of an American problem. I know nothing 🙂

  2. I encountered a lot of these same issues when we traveled to Africa (people in the villages would walk up to me and touch my hair and skin because they’d literally never seen a white person before) and know our girls will be treated very differently there when we go back to see family. It’s such a complicated complicated thing. Great post, Fiona, super thought provoking.

  3. I agree with the others – wonderful post and very thought-provoking.

    It is definitely not to the same level you describe, but we do see a fair bit of this with Sofia here in Spain because she’s “so blond,” “so pale,” with “such blue eyes.” Thankfully no one has ever tried to take her picture before because that would definitely bother me. I perhaps shouldn’t admit it, but in a way it’s kind of nice – we all like to feel a touch different and personally I “enjoy” being blond (by Spanish standards) in Spain (maybe this comes back to that whole special unicorn idea I posted about!). Plus I’m obviously in complete agreement that Sofia is absolutely gorgeous. 😉 But I truly had never stopped to think about how those interactions might impact her or the other kids around her. What if baby brother comes out with dark hair and brown eyes? He’d certainly never get the attention that Sofia gets because he’d “blend in” far more, so seeing his sister get fawned over would certainly affect him in some way. And seeing herself get more attention because of physical attributes is not really a lesson I’m excited for Sofia to learn either!

    Your post also made me wonder what the standards/guidelines/rules are for international professional photographers. I can’t imagine opening up the New York Times to read an article about playground safety, for example, and seeing my daughter there among the kids in the central picture. But, hypothetically many people, particularly from poor, undeveloped areas, could do just that with articles in National Geographic, Time, etc. And I wonder if anyone ever stopped to get their permission. And, if not, what does that say about how much value we put on those people?

  4. I’ve never been to the DR, but it’s particularly notorious for racism, at least in my small circle. My understanding is that it has a lot to do with the relationship between the DR and Haiti. I’m sure you’d be interested in this: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/12/black-heritage-in-dominican-republic_n_4088513.html

    India is also rife with color prejudice. Skin whitening creams are big business there. Really big business. And the locals gawking at white people and white people gawking at locals also goes on, much in the same way you describe happening there. I’ve had people I’d never seen before in my life thrust their babies at me so that they could get a picture of (very, very pale) me holding their baby. It really took awhile for me to even begin to process. Even in my own family it’s an issue–a subtle one, but there. My husband’s family is the sort of family that married inter-caste on purpose several generations ago and has been pointedly liberal every since, but there’s still an assumption that “darker” children will automatically feel inferior to “lighter” children in the family.

    Of course, my own quite liberal, believes themselves to be “color-blind,” family members are also guilty of color-oriented behaviors and thoughts. I once alarmed my mother and aunt by making an off-the-cuff comment in a casual conversation that “Mira’s not white.” Stunned silence. Most irritatingly personally, both of my husband and my families automatically assume that Mira looks more like the other because of her coloring without looking further.

    I’d love to think that a color-blind world would be great, but there are so many variations of color-based prejudice out there, and it’s so very, very real for so many people, that I can’t help but think that proclaiming color-blindness is just sticking one’s head in the sand.

    Thanks for writing about this.

  5. Wow – great post, Fiona. My good friend spent 6 months in Korea with her family which included two blond hair blue eyed daughters. They were constantly getting pictures taken of them – almost daily. My friend wasn’t offended by this as the “intent” of the Koreans taking the picture was good and sincere, but in reality, there is a baseline of racism even if the intent is good.

  6. Amen!! I remember volunteering in little villages in the DR when tourist buses would drive through with people snapping away. It made me sad. I wanted to yell at them “get off the bus and help!” But I never thought about it the other way around. So interesting.

  7. This post has had me thinking since I first read it. I can’t quite figure out what to say as my thoughts have come from so many angles, much like yours have. I will be thinking about this for a long, long time.

  8. In my photography class 2 years ago, there was a big discussion on capturing the “people” of the places you visit to capture the essence of the culture. I never once thought about children, but I can see it for sure. I’ve never been a people photographer. I’ve always been more of a building architecture and landscape type. But this is definitely a different way of seeing things. People say to me all the time how beautiful Raegan is. Once I had a mad stop and ask me to take her picture. FREAKED ME THE EFF OUT! so I would definitely stop and think before I took any child’s picture. Ask first of course….Agreeing with everyone else that this is an incredibly thought provoking post….I’ve loved everyone’s comment and their experiences.

  9. Wow, what an interesting post. I have taken pictures of children playing in the streets in other countries and have not thought about it all. Now I look back and feel terrible, I was be so mad/protective about that if the roles were reversed. I was thinking of it as capturing culture, but still it isn’t right.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Side note, they would really love me down there! I am crazy crazy pale, which isn’t a great thing in the States, I guess it is all about where you are!

  10. I don’t have anything brilliant to say that hasn’t already been said in the comments, but I do want to tell you that this is one of my favorite posts I’ve read in a long time!

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